25 Best Online Master’s in Social Work (MSW) 2021

| TBS Staff

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Earning a master's in social work online (MSW) can lead to meaningful careers in many different fields. For example, graduates find employment in schools, government agencies, and clinics, working directly with individuals, children, and families.

During an online MSW program, students learn to diagnose behavioral issues, advocate for at-risk communities, and help individuals and groups manage challenges in their daily lives. With a growing number of families falling into poverty during the COVID-19 pandemic, the social work field will need more experienced professionals to support struggling communities. 

Online MSW programs provide a flexible route to lucrative, meaningful work. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects faster-than-average job growth for social workers from 2019-2029. Social workers with MSWs generally earn higher-than-average salaries and qualify for roles like clinical social worker.

Our list ranks the best online MSW programs for 2021. Prospective online MSW students can use this ranking to find the right fit for their professional goals. This article also introduces social work concentrations, licensure requirements for social workers, and common social work careers.

Top Ten Online Master's in Social Work (MSW) Degree Programs
#1 University of Central Florida Orlando, FL
#2 University of South Florida Tampa, FL
#3 University of North Dakota Grand Forks, ND
#4 Arizona State University Scottsdale, AZ
#5 The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Edinburg, TX
#6 University of Arkansas Fayetteville, AR
#7 Eastern Washington University Cheney, WA
#8 Missouri State University Springfield, MO
#9 University of Southern California Los Angeles, CA
#10 New Mexico State University Las Cruces, NM

Featured Online Schools

What Is an Online Master's in Social Work Degree?

An online MSW program trains students in areas like social welfare policy, social work research, and clinical social work. Many online MSW programs offer concentrations for specialty areas like children and families, school social work, or social work administration. The degree builds strong interpersonal, research, and analytical skills.

Pursuing a master's in social work online allows enrollees to complete practicum requirements in their local areas. Completing an MSW degree online generally takes two years for full-time students, though some programs offer an accelerated option. After earning an online MSW, graduates can apply for social work licensure and pursue employment in the field.

Choosing a Master's in Social Work Online Program

When researching online MSW programs, prospective applicants should consider factors like cost, program length, and specialization options. Rather than simply comparing tuition rates, candidates should research the total cost of each program, including fees, the total number of credits required, and textbook prices. Some programs offer accelerated options, which can mean tuition savings.

MSW students should also research the graduate placement record for each program, along with field experience opportunities. Online programs often connect distance learners with opportunities in their local areas, but some programs have larger placement networks than others. By researching these factors, aspiring social workers can find the program that best suits their goals and needs.

Accreditation for Online MSW Programs

Prospective students should always choose accredited MSW programs. The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) accredits schools of social work, including online programs. Only a CSWE-accredited degree meets the requirements for a social work license. As a result, attending an unaccredited program will limit a social worker's career options.

In addition to ensuring that the program holds accreditation, applicants should research if the school maintains regional accreditation. Some institutions have national accreditation, which doesn't meet the same standards as regional accreditation when it comes to social work degrees.

What Can I Expect When Pursuing a Master's in Social Work Online?

Degree-seekers enrolled in a master's in social work online can expect to take classes in social justice, social work practice, and social welfare policy. Additionally, social work students often choose concentrations to prepare for specialized career paths after graduation. Online learners must often complete in-person requirements to develop practical experience.

Social Work Curriculum

  • Diversity and Social Justice in Social Work: Most social work programs include courses on diversity and social justice to introduce students to core issues in the field. MSW students engage with diversity in practice, promote social justice, and explore social identity. The course also considers theories of social oppression, the roles of privilege and power in society, and conflict resolution.
  • Human Behavior and the Social Environment: Social environments shape how people respond and behave. In this course, students learn to interpret human behavior and critically examine the relationship between social settings and behavior. The course also covers concepts like social network theory and social-cognitive-behavioral theory. Learners apply these theoretical concepts through case studies to strengthen their practical skills.
  • Social Welfare Policy: Topics in this course may include the development of new policies, the implementation and evaluation of social welfare policies, and the broader service delivery network. Learners also examine the relationship between policy development and delivery. The course prepares graduates for policy-making roles.
  • Social Work Research: Enrollees learn about research methods, including quantitative and qualitative approaches, the connection between research and practice, and strategies for sampling and data collection. Learners also examine ethical issues, such as informed consent, confidentiality, and cultural sensitivity in conducting research.
  • Social Work with Individuals and Families: Learners build interpersonal skills and strengthen their professional practices. Coursework covers the assessment process, building relationships with clients, and appropriate social work interventions. The class prepares graduates for clinical roles working with individuals and groups.

Social Work Concentrations


This concentration prepares students for careers working with older adults. Coursework covers services aimed at aging communities, social justice issues for older adults, and program development. Core topics include healthcare, memory care, and elder abuse. Graduates are prepared for clinical roles or policy-making positions in aging services organizations.

Children and Families

A children and families social work concentration examines how to increase positive mental health outcomes for children. Students learn to assess children, provide early intervention services, and offer clinical treatment for children and families. The concentration emphasizes mental health support, protective factors, and risk factors.

Clinical Social Work

This concentration trains social workers to help people facing mental and emotional challenges. Learners examine counseling practices, including methods of identifying and evaluating challenges and both individual and group treatment approaches. They also explore behavioral issues, professional challenges, and family conflicts. Graduates can pursue careers in clinical social work.

Community and Social Systems

A community and social systems concentration focuses on macro-level social welfare organizations. Students examine social systems to identify potential improvements or policy needs. They also learn to conduct multisystemic assessments and evaluate large-scale social problems. The concentration prepares graduates for roles in social work policy-making and social welfare institutions.

Forensic Social Work

This concentration uses social work tools to address problems in the legal system. Forensic social workers represent clients within the justice system, acting as consultants or advocates in legal settings. A forensic social work concentration includes training in the criminal justice system and social services that connect to the legal system.

Generalist School Social Work

A school social work concentration examines the barriers children face in school settings. The concentration trains MSW students in issues like homelessness, violence, truancy, and challenges related to special education programs. Degree-seekers build the knowledge and skills needed to work with different student populations and design student support systems in schools

Advanced Standing MSW Programs

A student with a bachelor's in social work from a CSWE-accredited program may receive advanced standing status in an online MSW program, which allows them to graduate more quickly. Typically, an MSW takes two years of full-time study to complete, but advanced standing programs usually allow students to graduate within one year.

Social Work Licensure and Certification

Social workers seeking employment in clinical social work, school social work, and similar fields need licenses. Each state issues its own social work licenses and sets specific licensure requirements. Generally, a licensed social worker (LSW) needs to hold an MSW and meet supervised experience requirements, though some states only require a bachelor's degree. 

Social workers licensed in one state can often apply for a reciprocal license in other states, but reciprocity isn't automatic. They may need to meet additional requirements, depending on the state. Learn more about social work licensure with the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) licensing guide.

What Is a Licensed Social Worker?

An LSW typically holds at least a bachelor's degree in social work, though many states require an MSW. In some states, MSW students must apply for LSW licenses to complete their practicum training. Since the requirements for the LSW credential vary by state, social workers should research the process in their state.

What Is a Licensed Master Social Worker?

A licensed master social worker (LMSW) holds an MSW degree and works in non-clinical social work roles. For licensure, candidates must complete accredited MSW programs, provide evidence of supervised social work experience, and take the ASWB Advanced Generalist exam.

What Is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker?

A licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) holds an MSW from a CSWE-accredited program. In most states, LCSW candidates must also complete at least two years of supervised clinical experience after earning their master's degrees. Licensure also requires passing scores on the state's clinical social work exam.

What Is a Licensed Graduate Social Worker?

A licensed graduate social worker (LGSW) typically holds an MSW degree and must pass an exam. LGSW requirements vary among states. In some states, LGSWs must also meet supervised work experience requirements. Clinical social workers often hold LGSW licenses while working toward meeting LCSW licensure requirements.

What Is an ACSW Credential?

The Academy of Certified Social Workers (ACSW) offers the ACSW credential for social workers with master's degrees from CSWE-accredited programs and at least two years of postgraduate professional experience. Each candidate also needs a current NASW membership and 20 hours of continuing education. The credential recognizes experienced social workers who follow the profession's code of ethics.

Social Work Professional Organizations

Professional organizations help MSW students network with social workers and prepare for the workforce. Many of these organizations offer information on social work practice, publish research in the field, provide professional development resources, and host career centers. Many also offer scholarship opportunities to help students fund their education.

NASW counts over 120,000 social work professionals among its members. Founded in 1955, the association offers career resources, professional certifications, and information about specialty practice. NASW also hosts a career center. CSWA advocates for clinical social workers. It also offers clinical practice resources, including information on informed consent, HIPAA, and texting in mental health treatment. CSWA also hosts a job board. This organization brings together social workers specializing in rural issues. The National Rural Social Work Caucus hosts an annual conference, publishes a journal on rural social work, and provides continuing education resources. This professional organization for Black social workers supports research and human services delivery in Black communities. NABSW publishes research in the field, hosts a career center with job resources, and awards scholarships to social work students. ISFW advocates for social workers around the globe by promoting social justice and human rights. Members can access conferences and events, the organization's information hub, and resources on social work best practices.

Social Work Jobs and Salaries

Marriage and Family Therapists
Median Salary: $49,610 Projected Job Growth: 22%

Marriage and family therapists help families overcome challenges, including personal relationship problems, life changes, and mental health struggles. They work with individuals, couples, and families to help clients process life changes and make decisions about their futures. Marriage and family therapists also refer clients to relevant community resources and services, such as support groups or inpatient treatment facilities.

Strong interpersonal communication skills help marriage and family therapists support their clients. Marriage and family therapists typically hold master's degrees in social work, psychology, or other related fields. In every state, marriage and family therapists need licenses to practice.

Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists
Median Salary: $54,290 Projected Job Growth: 4%

Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists help incarcerated individuals access social services and reintegrate into their communities upon release. These professionals work with probationers, parolees, and pretrial defendants. After evaluating clients, probation officers and correctional treatment specialists design a course of rehabilitation, which may include referring clients to services like job training or substance abuse counseling.

Most probation officer and correctional treatment specialist positions require at least a bachelor's degree in social work. A master's degree qualifies candidates for advanced roles in the field.

Social and Community Service Managers
Median Salary: $67,150 Projected Job Growth: 17%

Social and community service managers oversee social service programs. They identify the need for programs and services; plan and implement programs; and analyze program effectiveness.

Most managerial social work jobs require at least a bachelor's degree. Some employers prefer candidates with master's degrees or significant professional experience in social services.

Social Workers
Median Salary: $50,470 Projected Job Growth: 13%

Social workers assist individuals struggling with mental, behavioral, and emotional issues. They connect clients to community resources, provide counseling services, and treat mental health issues. Social workers can specialize in niche areas, like school social work or healthcare social work.

Many social workers need master's degrees, including clinical social workers, who must hold MSWs and have two years of supervised experience.

Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors
Median Salary: $46,240 Projected Job Growth: 25%

Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors help clients manage mental health and behavioral challenges. They evaluate clients' mental and physical health, develop customized treatment plans, and help patients modify behaviors. These counselors may also make referrals to social services and conduct outreach programs to educate the public on destructive behaviors.

Most substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors hold bachelor's degrees, while mental health counselors typically need master's degrees.

Ask an Expert

Anne Inwood works at Successful Families Together, where she provides parent coaching, parent support and resources, and parent education. She helps families create successful routines and provide therapy and counseling. She has an LCSW and a master of science in child development.

Preferred Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

What was your favorite aspect of earning a master of social work degree?

When I was earning my MSW, I was able to have first-hand experience working with families in various situations while learning and working under regular supervision. I had group supervision in my courses with a professor and other students, which meant we could all learn from each other and our experiences. I learned from my internship experiences as well as the experiences of my peers.

What should students interested in social work be good at?

Students studying social work should be able to have meaningful and critical self-reflection. Social workers need to be able to reflect on who they are and how their values and beliefs impact how they work with their clients. These beliefs and values may be ingrained in who a social worker is even if it's not readily apparent to them.

Social workers interact with a variety of clients who hold beliefs that can range from extreme on either end of the spectrum to more in the middle. This means that a social worker needs to be able to respond to clients with dignity and respect, no matter how similar or different their belief systems are.

This does not mean that social workers need to change their beliefs and values for a client, but they do need to be aware of what these are to make it easier to respond appropriately to clients from a variety of backgrounds.

What makes social work a popular field for online study?

Social work is a field that can be filled with nontraditional work hours, which also include being on call. This can make it more difficult to have courses at the same time each week as they may not be as confident of what their schedule will look like from week to week.

While there may be some specific times for course meetings, online learning can be more flexible in terms of when the student needs to be online, as long as assignments are submitted on time. It can also provide a more varied experience for students as they can learn from the experiences their peers are having in a variety of communities and environments.

Are there any advantages to studying social work online as opposed to in a traditional brick-and-mortar setting?

In an online program, you can interact with students in a variety of states. By contrast, while students from a brick-and-mortar setting may come from various locations, they are not having their internship experiences from a variety of states.

While the Code of Ethics provides social workers with the same ethical code, this does not mean that states have the same resources and laws. I am currently teaching in an online social work program, and students are able to learn about the variety of different social work experiences — such as hospice, child welfare, and inpatient programs — and they are able to see how different laws and regulations also impact social work. It is a valuable learning experience to see the role that advocacy can play in the field.

What makes social work such a versatile and meaningful degree?

Social work provides theories and ideas around clinical skills and providing therapy and counseling, but it also helps people learn who they are and the ideas around interacting with others. These attributes are important for everyone.

Specifically, how does a therapist help clients to know and understand themselves and their passions if the therapist is not clear on who they themselves are? If someone does not know who they are and what values and beliefs they have, how can they work effectively with others when their beliefs differ?

All of these skills can transfer to other fields and professions and are especially valuable when interacting with a client who may or may not share the same beliefs or life experiences.

Related Programs That Might Interest You

The Best Online Master's in Social Work (MSW) Degree Programs

University of Central Florida View School Profile $$ Orlando, FL 73% 39% 57% AccreditationUCF's online MSW programs are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). University of Central Florida is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

UCF currently serves over 71,000 students annually, making it the largest university by enrollment in its home state and one of the largest in the nation. This public university currently offers an online master's in social work that typically takes 2-3 years to complete.

UCF's online MSW program offers two tracks: a 32-credit advanced and a 62-credit traditional program. Both programs take a generalist approach to social work ethics, practice, and philosophy. Course topics include diverse client populations, clinical practice with LGBTQ+ clients, and family practice.

University of South Florida View School Profile $$ Tampa, FL 73% 39% 54% AccreditationUniversity of South Florida is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

Established in 1956, USF was originally built on a World War II airfield. The school now boasts a student body of over 50,000 annually and has a strong reputation as a research hub.

The online master's in social work at USF consists of 35-60 credits. The program's curriculum begins with 17 credits of foundational study, followed by more advanced scholarly study in clinical work for individuals, families, and small groups. The experience culminates with a field practicum where students apply theory to client interactions at a partnering agency.

University of North Dakota View School Profile $$$ Grand Forks, ND 55% 48% 49% AccreditationUND's social work programs are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). University of North Dakota is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

Founded in 1883, the University of North Dakota is its home state's oldest university. The school currently offers over 120 online degree and certificate programs, and students can earn a master's in social work online.

The 36-60 credit program takes 1-3 years to complete and tailors its formatting to working students. Course topics include human behavior in the social environment, social policy, and field education.

Arizona State University View School Profile $$ Scottsdale, AZ 14% 55% 97% AccreditationASU's online MSW program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Arizona State University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

Founded in 1885, ASU has garnered attention for its Skysong facility, a mixed-use development in Scottsdale that provides research and entrepreneurship opportunities for students.

ASU's 51-60 credit online social work master's degree allows learners to choose a portfolio, applied project, thesis, or integrative capstone at the culmination of the degree. Course topics in the curriculum include research methods in social work, social policy and services, and macro social work practice.

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley View School Profile Edinburg, TX 46% 37% 50% AccreditationUTRGV is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

UTRGV currently serves over 32,000 students annually from its Southern Texas campus and onlne, the majority of whom are of Hispanic ancestry. In 2020, the school earned recognition in Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education magazine as the fourth best school nationwide for awarding master's degrees to Hispanic learners.

The two-year, 63-credit online master's in social work at UTRGV prepares learners for advanced practice with majority-Latino populations and comes in an accelerated format. The program also offers an optional concentration in administration and community practice.

University of Arkansas View School Profile $$$ Fayetteville, AR 66% 37% 27% AccreditationUniversity of Arkansas is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

Founded in 1871, U of A is the second oldest higher education institution in Arkansas. Over 27,000 students currently attend the school, which features over 200 traditional and online programs.

UA's 39-credit, online, advanced standing master's in social work takes one year to complete and only allows students to take courses full time. The learning experience culminates with a year-long internship at an approved setting. The school sometimes allows students to complete their internships at their current workplaces. Course topics include social work research and technology, social work policy, and social work practice.

Eastern Washington University View School Profile $$ Cheney, WA 44% 67% 28% AccreditationEastern Washington University is regionally accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU).

Since 1882, EWU has provided affordable education to Eastern Washington and beyond through traditional and online programs. Over 12,000 students currently attend the school annually.

EWU's 51-90-credit online social work master's degree examines the social work field through a generalist or advanced generalist lens. The curriculum gives added emphasis to leadership skills in social work and explores social justice aspects of treating diverse populations. Course topics include human development in contemporary environments, social work practice in a diverse society, and foundations of professional social work practice.

Missouri State University View School Profile $$$ Springfield, MO 54% 47% 37% AccreditationMissouri State's online MSW program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Missouri State University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

Based in Springfield since 1905, Missouri State has become one of the most well-regarded public universities in the Midwest. As the second largest higher education institution in Missouri, the school currently serves a student body of over 24,000 every year.

Missouri State students can take a 34-62-credit master's in social work online, focusing on advanced generalist courses. Students can enroll either part or full time. The program's curriculum includes coursework in rural health, substance use and social work practice, and grant writing in health and human services.

University of Southern California View School Profile Los Angeles, CA 92% 29% 18% AccreditationUniversity of Southern California is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).

USC is one of the most prestigious universities in the world and the largest private employer in the Los Angeles area. The school provides $337 million in financial aid to its students every year.

USC's online master's in social work typically takes two years to complete and requires students to choose a focus in one of three departmental areas: adult mental health and awareness; children, youth, and families; or social change and innovation. The program culminates with students completing field placements within their own communities.

New Mexico State University View School Profile $ Las Cruces, NM 46% 33% 43% AccreditationNew Mexico State University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

Established in 1888 in Las Cruces, New Mexico, NMSU is the oldest higher education institution in New Mexico. It also ranked 48th in the Hispanic Outlook on Education magazine's Top 100 Colleges and Universities for Hispanics.

NMSU's 60-credit online master's in social work takes two years to complete and uses both asynchronous and synchronous course delivery formats. The program takes an advanced generalist focus that prepares learners for work with Latino-majority and Native American populations. Course topics include policy analysis and change, sociocultural concepts and populations of the Southwest, and social work research.

The University of Texas at Arlington View School Profile $$ Arlington, TX 49% 41% 51% AccreditationThe University of Texas Arlington is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

Founded in 1895, UTA serves over 42,000 students every year, over 10,000 of whom live either on campus or nearby.

The 61-credit online master's in social work at UTA uses a cohort model and takes 1-3 years to complete, depending on whether students take courses full or part time. The program takes an advanced generalist focus and allows students to choose between specialty tracks, including tracks in direct practice in aging, direct practice in children and families, and community and administrative practice.

The University of Alabama View School Profile $$$$ Tuscaloosa, AL 72% 39% 39% AccreditationThe University of Aalabama is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

The oldest and largest higher education institution in Alabama, UA offers several majors unavailable elsewhere in the state, including Romance languages, anthropology, and social work. UA students can also complete a social work master's program online.

UA's 42-60-credit online master's in social work combines online coursework, face-to-face labs, and a field placement. The program offers two concentrations: one in children, adolescents, and their families -- which prepares graduates for work in child welfare and mental health settings -- and an adults and their families concentration, which prepares for work in geriatric and adult mental health settings.

Concord University View School Profile $ Athens, WV 38% 71% 66% AccreditationConcord University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

Based in Athens, West Virginia since 1872, CU was founded by veterans of both the Union and Confederacy armies. The school currently features a range of online programs that are tailored to the scheduling needs of working students.

The 60-credit, online master's in social work at CU operates on a systems-and-strengths paradigm and prepares graduates to work with rural populations. The curriculum consists of 24 credits of foundational coursework and 36 credits of advanced generalist study. Course topics include advanced policy in rural practice, advanced rural research, and Appalachian culture, structures, and environment.

California State University, San Bernardino View School Profile $ San Bernardino, CA 57% 35% 27% AccreditationCSUSB's online MSW program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CWSE). California State University, San Bernardino is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).

Established in 1965, CSUSB sits in the midst of the beautiful San Bernardino mountains in the city's university district. Over 19,000 students attend the school annually.

CSUSB's 60-credit, online master's in social work covers five curricular areas: human behavior and the social environment, micro practice, macro practice, research, and field work. The program culminates with either a research project carried out in a field setting or a thesis on contemporary social work issues.

University of South Dakota View School Profile $$$ Vermillion, SD 57% 52% 46% AccreditationThe University of South Dakota is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

Founded by the Dakota Territories in 1862, USD actually preceded the existence of its home state by 27 years.

The 36-60-credit, online master's in social work at USD prepares graduates for careers providing social work services within South Dakota and the surrounding region. Course topics include practice with communities, advanced social policy, and diversity and social justice in rural and urban communities. The program is one of just 11 social work programs that implement the Path to Licensure program, which supplements online coursework with 500 hours of practical field education.

Colorado State University View School Profile $$$ Fort Collins, CO 69% 42% 24% AccreditationColorado State University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

CSU is based in Fort Collins, Colorado, and was founded in 1870. It has a strong reputation for its vigorous programs and high level of research activity, currently serving over 10,000 students annually with both on-campus and fully online courses and programs.

CSU's 39-64-credit, online master's in social work takes 2-3 years to complete, and the curriculum covers community advocacy, conflict resolution, and direct and indirect intervention strategies. The school encourages students to pursue their master of social work alongside other online graduate certificates in areas like nonprofit administration, military and veteran culture, or conflict resolution and mediation.

Virginia Commonwealth University View School Profile $$$$ Richmond, VA 67% 49% 29% AccreditationVirginia Commonwealth Univeristy is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

Established in 1838, VCU stands out among schools offering social work programs in Virginia. Its school of social work was the first in its home state, debuting in 1917.

VCU's 60-credit, online master's in social work takes around two years to complete and maintains small class sizes. Course topics include child welfare in social work practice, gender and substance abuse, and mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders.

University of Missouri View School Profile $$$ Columbia, MO 69% 40% 31% AccreditationThe University of Missouri is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

Based in Columbia since 1839, Mizzou is both a top-rated public university in the Midwest and a leader in social work research.

The 39-60-credit, online master's in social work at Mizzou allows students to choose between concentrations in advanced clinical practice or policy, planning, and administration in human services. The curriculum culminates with a 680-hour practicum, which must be completed in an approved setting. The online master's in social work is currently restricted to learners in either Missouri or states contiguous with Missouri.

University of North Carolina at Charlotte View School Profile $$ Charlotte, NC 59% 53% 28% AccreditationThe University of North Carolina at Charlotte is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

UNC Charlotte is the second largest of the 17 member schools of the University of North Carolina system, serving 30,000 students annually through both traditional and online programs.

The online master's in social work at UNC Charlotte takes three years to complete. The learning experience combines synchronous and asynchronous online learning with in-person and virtual campus visits, where students can meet other members of their cohort. Course topics include advocacy and policy change, practice and program evaluation, and mental health assessment.

Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey View School Profile $$$ New Brunswick, NJ 80% 50% 26% AccreditationRutgers, The State University of New Jersey is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).

Established in New Brunswick in 1766, Rutgers is among the oldest and most prestigious universities in the nation.

The 39-60-credit, online master's in social work at Rutgers takes three years to complete and comes in an asynchronous learning format. Students can choose between concentrations in clinical social practice or management and policy. The program culminates with a field placement experience, which begins in the third semester. Course topics include diversity and oppression, management practice and theory, and violence against women and children.

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville View School Profile $$$$ Knoxville, TN 73% 42% 35% AccreditationThe University of Tennessee, Knoxville is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

UT Knoxville was founded in 1794, preceding Tennessee's establishment as a state by two years. Over 30,000 students currently attend UT Knoxville.

The 37-60-credit, online master's in social work at UT Knoxville takes 1-2 years to complete and utilizes both asynchronous and synchronous online learning formats. It also requires a field practicum or internship. The program's concentrations give students a choice between evidenced-based interpersonal practice or organizational leadership. Course topics include lifespan and neurophysiologic development, cognitive behavioral therapy, and military social work practice.

Ohio State University View School Profile $$$ Columbus, OH 84% 38% 33% AccreditationOhio State University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

Established in 1870 in Columbus, Ohio State serves an annual student body of over 67,000, making it one of the largest schools in the nation. Ohio State's school of social work is the oldest continuously accredited social work school, with a history dating back to 1919.

The 43-63-credit, online master's in social work at Ohio State offers three concentrations: aging and health, mental health and substance abuse, and child and youth services. Course topics include diversity and cultural competence, engaging with evidence, and developmental changes across the lifespan. The learning experience culminates with an extensive field practicum or internship.

Aurora University View School Profile Aurora, IL 54% 67% 18% AccreditationAurora University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

Founded in 1893, AU offers small class sizes and solid liberal arts programs. The school's online programs follow an asynchronous learning format and incorporate open educational resources.

AU's 60-credit, online master's in social work typically takes 2-3 years to complete and heavily features a field instruction component that allows students to apply theory to real-world contexts. Online students can choose from a variety of degree tracks, including leadership administration, health care, and forensic social work. Course topics include theories of human development, perspectives on psychopathology, and advanced social policy.

University of Houston View School Profile $$$ Houston, TX 59% 39% 40% AccreditationThe University of Houston is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

Located near downtown Houston, Texas, UH is a public university known for innovative research activity and academic vigor.

UH's 63-credit, online master's in social work follows a cohort model and blends asynchronous and synchronous online learning. The school allows students to structure the course sequence to focus on either clinical or macro social practice. Course topics include confronting oppression and injustice, cognitive behavioral interventions, and advanced social policy analysis. Students must also complete a 900-hour field practicum.

Texas State University View School Profile $$ San Marcos, TX 55% 53% 28% AccreditationTexas State's MSW program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Texas State University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

Founded in 1899, Texas State serves more than 38,000 students annually, offering a variety of degree programs, concentration options, and practical research opportunities.

The university's 36-62-credit, online master's in social work develops students' skills in practice, advocacy, and research. The program focuses on both direct practice and administrative services, teaching students how to work with individuals and families of all ages and backgrounds. In addition to core requirements, students can take electives in diversity, gerontology, healthcare, and working with veterans.

Online Master's in Social Work (MSW) Programs Ranking Guidelines

We selected the programs based on the quality of the program, the types of courses offered, the faculty, rankings, awards, and reputation, including the school's reputation for effectively providing online degree programs.

The motto of TheBestSchools.org is Finding the best school for you. Here is how we do it:

The value of any ranking list of schools and/or degree programs depends on having a methodologically sound assessment of each school’s/program’s characteristics, especially insofar as these can be objectively measured. A college or university is a complex entity, with numerous factors to consider, and distilling these down to the place where meaningful comparisons can be made to form a defensible ranking list becomes part science and part art.

To meet this challenge—and thereby provide you with the most useful and insightful educational rankings on the Internet — TheBestSchools.org formulates our rankings based on five informational categories (six, when considering online schools). The major metrics and qualities for which we rank are these (with expanded, detailed considerations and weights listed):

1. Academic excellence based on a school’s curriculum generally or within the selected discipline [weight = 25%]

  • Weighs school against known leading schools in that discipline
  • Weighs number of core curricula listed as advanced courses within that discipline and compares against introductory courses
  • Weighs school’s curriculum against known knowledge needs of major employers in that discipline
  • Considers number and types of specializations offered within that discipline
  • Considers faculty expertise in that discipline
  • Considers range of electives within that discipline
  • Considers quality of online environment offered to students (if applicable), particularly within that discipline

2. Strength of faculty scholarship [weight = 25%]

  • Considers education background of the faculty
  • Considers years of faculty experience both inside and outside of academia.
  • Considers faculty membership and leadership within relevant, prominent associations
  • Considers academic papers published by faculty in relevant, prominent periodicals
  • Considers awards and recognitions given to faculty members from prominent organizations and from other sources

3. Reputation [weight = 20%]

  • Considers a school’s reputation among academic peers and employers regarding the following:
    • Faculty
    • Curriculum
    • “Freshness” of academic knowledge
    • Adaptability to changes in employment sectors
    • Suitability of graduates for the workplace

4. Financial aid [weight = 10%]

  • Mandatory: Requires full accreditation from an agency endorsed by the U.S. Department of Education and listed on the federal register to accept student federal financial aid
  • Considers range of school-sponsored financial aid such as scholarships and grants

5. Range of degree programs [weight = 20%]

  • Considers range of degree levels: associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral and professional
  • Considers range of degree subjects offered, such as art & design, computers & technology, education & teaching, criminal justice, and business

6. Strength of online instruction methodology (if applicable) [weight = 25%; subtract 5% from each of the above for online schools/programs]

  • Considers the following of the online classes:
    • Types of online technology used to deliver content
    • Pedagogy style: asynchronous, synchronous, or both (depending on the degree)
    • Extent and quality of the online, community learning environment, including options for communication, interactivity, and collaboration between students and also between students and instructors
    • Variety, breadth, and depth of coursework, and its support, including project options and online tutoring
  • Considers the following of instructors:
    • Extent of training for teaching within an online learning environment
    • Amount of timely, consistent feedback to students
    • Extent of collaboration with prospective employers to ensure suitability of instructional materials for achieving desired skills
    • Ratio to number of students in a class
  • Number and quality of internships in a student’s geographical area for applicable degrees

Because students tend to review a variety of information when choosing a school, the weight a student gives any one criterion will vary. For instance, it’s not enough to offer a carefully constructed ranking of great schools if many are too expensive or too difficult to get into.

To better serve the needs of prospective students, we are therefore increasingly offering filters that help you better use our rankings to find the schools that match your specific needs. These supplement our ranking criteria and include:

  • Accreditation
  • Public or private status
  • Acceptance rate
  • Retention rate
  • Graduation rate
  • ACT/SAT requirements
  • Cost in-state / out of state
  • Undergrad, grad, or both offered
  • Region
  • State
  • City

Get the best rankings here AND get them to suit your personal needs. That’s TheBestSchools.org advantage!

If you have any questions about our ranking methodology, please contact us.

Citations: For a broader account of our ranking methodology, especially as it relates to TheBestSchools.org's underlying educational philosophy and, in other ranking articles, looks beyond academic excellence (as here) to such factors as return on investment or incidental benefit, see our article "Ranking Methodology: How We Rank Schools at TBS." Reputation of schools and degree programs can at least in part be gauged through the school or department's publishing activity, citations, and desirability. At TheBestSchools.org, we keep track of such social and peer validation: "Making Sense of College Rankings." For nuts-and-bolts information about colleges and universities, we look to the National Center for Education Statistics and especially its College Navigator. Insofar as salary and inflation data are relevant to a ranking, we look to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Finally, nothing beats contacting schools and degree programs directly, which our researchers often do, with the result that all the entries in this article should be considered as belonging to this citation!

Frequently Asked Questions

Which State Has the Highest-Paid Social Workers?

General social workers in Hawaii, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Georgia report the highest annual mean wages.

How Hard Is A Master's in Social Work?

MSW programs train social workers in social welfare policy-making, social work research, and clinical social work, which can all be highly technical and detail-oriented. Students typically must also complete an internship or practicum, which can be emotionally challenging. Driven, compassionate students will thrive in an MSW program.

Can You Get Your Master's in Social Work Online?

Yes. Many top-ranked social work programs offer online MSW programs. In an online setting, learners complete coursework in a distance learning format while meeting in-person clinical requirements through a local mental health organization.

Should I Get a Master's in Social Work or Counseling?

An MSW and a master's in counseling prepare graduates for different career paths. A counseling degree emphasizes counseling techniques and theories, while a social work degree takes more of a big-picture approach. While social workers provide a range of services within the social work system, counselors typically work directly with clients.

How Long Does an MSW Take to Complete?

Earning an MSW generally takes two years for full-time students, including internship requirements. Some programs offer accelerated options, which enable students to complete their degrees in less time.

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